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No hill too high for these NHLers

by Evan Grossman /
Eric Nystrom, above, got his boyhood friends Mike Komisarek and Chris Higgins involved in his off-season workout program.
It’s just after 8 a.m. the Friday of Labor Day weekend, and I’m in a dead run through the woods. Most of New York is sitting in rush-hour traffic, but we’re dashing up the side of a mountain on the North Shore of Long Island.

“Watch out for the poison ivy,” Jon DiFlorio shouts from up ahead.

I’m pacing myself, lightly jogging up the craggy trail, to be sure. DiFlorio, who is the personal trainer to several local NHL players, isn’t the type of guy to take his time doing anything. He’s way ahead of me now, anxious to meet his clients at the top of the hill.

He’s the type of guy who when he needs to get someplace, he’s going to run rather than jog. That’s how he rolls.

By the time we get to the top, guys like Montreal Canadiens defenseman Mike Komisarek, Calgary Flames prospect Eric Nystrom (300K | 700K ) and Habs forward Chris Higgins have already started their uphill sprints. They’re self-starters and they don’t need DiFlorio there to begin their workouts. DiFlorio likes that.

By the time I reach the top, I’m drenched in sweat. Not a light perspiration either. It looks like I just jumped in a lake. DiFlorio doesn’t have a drop on him.

There will be plenty of sweat to go around the rest of the day, for him and everybody else.

The players are doing sets of sprints up the other side of the hill we came up. It’s much steeper, much rockier, and far less inviting than the wooded path we navigated back here. Tucked behind a housing development in a part of this forest where high school kids probably hang out on the weekends, DiFlorio’s boys are running trails the 10th Mountain Division could train on.

There’s no way I’m running that hill with them.

Earlier in the summer, they were doing these sprints with boulders tucked under their arms. Seriously. Today, in what DiFlorio calls the “tapering down” of their summer workout program and just days before they will depart for their respective NHL training camps, the rocks are left at the bottom of the hill. The players, proudly chugging up the side of the mountain, don’t wear shirts. They brag about how they would throw up when they first started running these sprints.

They’re proud of how far they’ve come. About how they need little to no time to recover their wind.

Within five minutes of being let into DiFlorio’s little circle of super-motivated, hyperactive elite athletes, it’s clear that they’re a group that’s dedicated to improving their bodies, their minds, and of course, their NHL careers.

“I feel so strong, so light, just shredded,” Nystrom (300K |700K )says as we hike back out of the woods after DiFlorio’s soldiers have completed their assault on the hill. Nystrom is going to be fighting for a job when he arrives at the Calgary Flames’ camp. Nystrom says he feels like he’s in the best shape of his life, thanks to the intense physical, mental and nutritional regimen he’s become as loyal to as some people practice their religion. Add in the spiritual aspect of DiFlorio’s program, which he runs out of Institute 3E in Huntington, and what you have is a one-stop shop for high-level athletes.

It was Nystrom who got his boyhood friends Komisarek (300K |700K )and Higgins involved in the crew. What they get at Institute 3E is a little of everything they’ll need to excel on the ice. They get bigger, faster and visibly stronger. DiFlorio makes them lean and mean by introducing diet staples like feeding on only grass-fed protein, organic fruits and vegetables and snacking on things like elk jerky.

That would be jerky made from wild elk.

Christpher Higgins is trying to break the mold of being just a 20-goal scorer.
In many ways, DiFlorio is equal parts personal trainer, life coach, guru and pastor. Institute 3E was his idea that’s evolved into the mental and physical wellness program that it is today.

From the hill, the guys head straight to the rink, where they’ll play in a seven-game series of pickup hockey that will include several local pros in town early for the Islanders, guys like Mike Comrie (300K |700K ). The group also has local college players skate. On some days, the group will be over 20 strong in an impressive gathering of New York hockey talent.

After two hours on the ice, it’s time for Komisarek (300K |700K ) and company to head to Institute 3E in nearby Huntington, where they’ll go through personalized workouts under DiFlorio’s supervision. Individual programs are tailored to fit the position they play, therefore Rick DiPietro, a goalie, Komisarek, a defenseman, and Higgins and Nystrom, both forwards, will have much different routines. Komisarek, for example, throws around a lot more weight than the others, so as to better prepare him for moving people from out of the goalmouth.

Sweat is pouring like buckets in the afternoon as DiFlorio often has to wipe the floor as they work out because it collects in huge puddles. After watching these guys work out, there’s no question about how dedicated they are.

But with DiFlorio, they do more than just pump iron. The program also includes leadership training with Gary Parks, whose philosophy of accentuating what you do well (rather than concentrating on the negative, like we normally do) is simple and obvious. He meets with players often, sends text messages before games and hammers home his refreshing brand of self-improvement by making so much sense with everything he says.

Parks says that hockey is the most mentally challenging of any sport, and he’s right. It’s a game played on artificial feet (skates), on a slippery surface (ice), with an artificial arm (stick) that changes from offense to defense faster than any other sport. It takes a lot of brain power to play hockey, to play it with confidence, and powering up the brain is exactly what he does when he meets with players and has them list out all their great qualities. He calls them “ingredients,” and they are, according to his gospel, what makes you great at what you do.

A big part of Parks’ program is getting past personal limitations and getting his players to achieve goals (or markers, as they call them here) that were normally reserved for their wildest dreams. Komisarek is working on being known more as just a reliable stay-at-home defenseman. Higgins is trying to break the mold of being just a 20-goal scorer. DiPietro has it in his head to be the best goalie on the planet.

Their dreams are all lofty, for sure. But believing they can meet those goals and even exceed their own expectations is what these players take away from I3E. They get the tools they need here. They also learn how to eat right, how to get in touch with their souls, and how to be the best professional athletes they can be.

“Obviously, I want to play in the NHL,” Nystrom says. “I use this place to get as good as I can, just to get that little edge.”

After spending a day with DiFlorio and these guys, Institute 3E doesn’t seem like a little edge at all.

It seems like a tremendous one.

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